What happens when someone comes down with COVID-19 after leaving Santa Rita Jail?

We’ve been following the story of Darryl Geyer for the past few weeks. In our first story, Darryl is released from “deplorable” conditions in Santa Rita Jail and lands in a motel room. In today’s installment, we hear about what happens when he starts to feel sick.



May 13, 2020 – When I first meet Darryl Geyer over the phone, it’s in April. He’s just been released from Santa Rita Jail a few days before. And he’s staying in a motel room at the Quality Inn in Oakland, thanks to the organizations Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and All of Us or None.

Geyer tells me, “This past experience at Santa Rita was probably one of the hardest experiences of my life.”

“This past experience at Santa Rita was probably one of the hardest experiences of my life.”

At Santa Rita Jail, Geyer was housed mainly in the Outpatient Housing Unit, which holds people with medical needs. He says conditions there were “deplorable” and “extremely dirty.” Geyer was there for a badly infected knee injury. But he was being held in the same place as people with confirmed COVID-19 cases or who were symptomatic. Geyer was in his own cell. But he says staff went back and forth between cells.

“Some staff took more precautions than others,” says Geyer. “Some staff didn’t take any precautions whatsoever. And they would interact with me directly after interacting with the COVID-positive patient. Which is why I’m now, you know, sick in my hotel room, self quarantine.”

“It started yesterday,” he continues. “I was calling everybody like panicked. [I had] just like a fever and… chest pains, like hurts to breathe a little bit, a cough. We scheduled a COVID test with one of the hospitals here for later today. It’s not going to surprise me if I get it just because of the fact that I was sharing the shower with the same inmates that had COVID in the jail. But hopefully I’ll wean myself through it like I do everything else. Two days after I got out, I started feeling ill.”

Geyer’s COVID-19 test came back positive. His symptoms weren’t severe enough to warrant a hospital stay, so he was sent back to quarantine in the motel room. He says after being released from Santa Rita, he went directly to the Quality Inn – so he doesn’t think he got infected anywhere else.

As part of the reporting process, I brought up Geyer’s case to Sergeant Ray Kelly, Public Information Officer for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which manages Santa Rita Jail. It was the first they had heard about his situation. He says he alerted Alameda County Public Health, which would set off a contact trace investigation. Once someone like Geyer gets released, it falls to the Public Health Department to follow up.

When asked whether the jail or Alameda County Public Health Department tracks numbers specifically on people who are confirmed COVID-19 positive after release from Santa Rita, Kelly replies, “So I believe that they are, and that they will have all access to that information. And that’s part of their contact tracing. Every case has to be contact traced that they may arrive at those conclusions. But as of right now, I don’t really have the answer to that.”

So he couldn’t confirm whether or not people like Geyer are being tracked by the county. I posed this question to an Alameda County spokesperson, but didn’t receive a response by deadline.

And Geyer’s not the only person who has come down with COVID-19 after leaving Santa Rita.

And Geyer’s not the only person who has come down with COVID-19 after leaving Santa Rita.

Sergeant Kelly says, “I got one other person that talked to me about, saying that they had COVID-19 and that they believe they got it at Santa Rita. So in order to either confirm or at least be highly probable that that’s the case, we have to do a contact trace investigation through public health. That program needs to expand and expand rapidly. I know our public health officer wants to get that up to about 300 contact tracers just for our county.”

Right now, Alameda County has 60 contact tracers. Geyer says no one has contacted him yet.

“Nobody’s ever asked me about the jail,” he says.

And the thing is, it’s not clear whether news of Geyer’s positive COVID-19 test result would have gotten back to the jail– even though he told the hospital that’s where he thought he was infected.

“That probably would not get back to us as of right now, that I’m aware of,” says Sergeant Kelly. “Once people leave our facility unless the contact trace people want to come back when they’re doing the reverse investigation and going backward in the timeline, they may arrive at our location at some point and then maybe we might know. I’m telling you, the system is not ours by design, and it’s got a lot of work that needs to be done.”

As of Tuesday, Santa Rita Jail officially had 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in people who are incarcerated and 2 in staff members. But some advocates say that the number of COVID-19 cases is likely much higher because testing has been so limited. Kelly says that more tests are needed and cites problems in the supply chain. Of the 177 tests administered, 30% have come up positive.

Jose Bernal is the organizing manager at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He works with people who are incarcerated in Santa Rita, their family members and attorneys. He says those test result numbers don’t tell the whole story about COVID-19 in the jail.

“It’s very likely that the numbers at Santa Rita jail in terms of who’s actually positive for COVID-19 are significantly higher,” he says.

“It’s very likely that the numbers at Santa Rita Jail in terms of who’s actually positive for COVID-19 are significantly higher.”

He says he’s also heard that people who are symptomatic are having a hard time getting tested.

Bernal says, “From what people inside have told me… when someone comes down with symptoms, they are requesting medical attention. They’re requesting to be tested. And you know, they’re often ignored. They’re often not given the attention that they need.”

Sergeant Kelly denies this. But Bernal says the lack of medical care at Santa Rita Jail, combined with the lack of COVID-19 testing, can pose a huge risk to people inside – especially in a jail that’s been the target of multiple lawsuits for unsanitary conditions and lack of medical attention. I ask him what he makes of Geyer’s situation.

He replies, “Fortunately for him, he was able to access testing and was able to advocate for himself to get tested. And it turns out he was positive. And so if you think about his case, but you also think about others who may be in that similar category, who may have that similar experience, how many more are walking among us right now who aren’t as fortunate as Darryl?”

“And you know, I think that the jail and the Alameda County really and more specifically, the Alameda County Public Health Department needs to step up,” he continues. “So not testing people, not addressing people’s health needs, continuing to allow people to sit there as sitting ducks is honestly, it’s just… a very egregious position to take that is endangering not just people who are inside, but everyone in the community, including myself, including the people listening to this.”

I check up on Geyer earlier this week to see how he’s doing. He says he’s mentally taxed, but good overall. And he’s been symptom-free for a few days now.

But that doesn’t mean he’s free from worry. He still has to figure out a new life in a pandemic – like where to live and how to move forward.

Lucy Kang is a reporter with KPFA. Follow her on Twitter at @ThisIsLucyKang

We are continuing to follow Darryl Geyer’s case and what happens to him next. Stay tuned for the next installment.

Listen to Part 1 of Darryl Geyer’s story

Listen to Part 3 of Darryl Geyer’s story